Healthy Fats: ‘How To’

Fat is my friend. Food fat that is. I feel like I’m on a mission to exonerate the image of fats. We’ve been brainwashed into thinking that fat is universally bad, something to be avoided at all costs, including (sadly) at the cost of flavor, texture and satisfaction from the food you eat. Many of my colleagues are still promoting “low fat” this and that in recipes and diet advice, which frankly makes me cringe.

Meanwhile many health organizations are quietly omitting recommendations for the low fat game plan. The US Dietary Guidelines, released a couple of years ago, didn’t recommend limiting fat intake, other than saturated fat. And the highly respected and healthful Mediterranean style diet is famously high in fat, sometimes over 40% fat calories, although of course most of that fat is from olive oil or nuts.

Thanks to the Mediterranean diet, we have the mantra of “healthy fats”. What exactly does that mean and how do you implement the advice? Here’s how most health experts define it: fats from plant sources, particularly olive oil, nuts and other food sources of primarily monounsaturated fatty acids, such as avocado. Other vegetable oils may be included in that mix, although they are higher in omega-6 fatty acids. Most of the experts do not advocate saturated fats, although there’s a very popular backlash in favor of saturated fats, which come primarily from animal sources like butter, whole milk, cheese and beef.

So let’s say we’re going to focus on monounsaturated fatty acid food sources like olive oil. How do you actually do that? Does it mean eating salads with olive oil vinaigrette all the time? Well that helps, but there are other ways.

One other way to include these fats is to use olive oil for sautéing foods like vegetables or meats. You can even use it to cook eggs. There’s no law that says you have to use butter or (gah!) margarine to cook eggs for breakfast. Try using olive oil. Even better, use olive oil if you’re making an omelete for dinner.

Here’s another non-mainstream idea: use olive oil as a spread. Wait, how does that even work? Well, in fact instead of spreading a fat on bread or toast, such as butter or (gah!) margarine on morning toast, try drizzling a bit of olive oil. Pour some oil into a spoon and drizzle it over the bread. Or use one of those oil sprayers you can fill yourself. The easier method is to pour oil into a small bowl and dip bread into the oil. Many restaurants serve bread with olive oil rather than butter. You can season the oil with herbs, ground pepper or salt flakes.

Here’s another strategy: nuts and nut butters. Nuts are loaded with healthy fats, and using nut butters as spreads, rather than butter or (gah!) margarine or cream cheese boosts the healthy fats in your meal. Peanut butter is well known and readily available, but how about other nut butters to add variety, such as:

  • tahini (sesame seeds)
  • cashew
  • sunflower
  • almond

Or just eat more nuts. Add them to salads, use them for snacks, sprinkle them on your oatmeal or other hot cereals.

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Finally, eat more avocado. In fact, ripe avocado is a wonderful spread for toast. Top morning toast with avocado and a thin slice of cheese (real cheese please!). Add avocado to salads or wraps/burritos.

So now no excuse for not including healthy fats in your diet everyday. There are plenty of options. Start to make them a habit.